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Television, 'RuPaul's Drag Race' and growing acceptance of LGBTQ+ community

CMS 120B capstone project

Tue, Dec 4th 2018 08:25 pm
From left, Michelle Visage, Carson Kressley, Ross Mathews, Lena Waithe and RuPaul arrive at the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards on the CBS Television Network. `RuPaul's Drag Race` has become a cultural phenomenon in recent years, expanding the role of the LGBTQ+ community in the media. (CBS photo by Trae Patton/©2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc.)
From left, Michelle Visage, Carson Kressley, Ross Mathews, Lena Waithe and RuPaul arrive at the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards on the CBS Television Network. "RuPaul's Drag Race" has become a cultural phenomenon in recent years, expanding the role of the LGBTQ+ community in the media. (CBS photo by Trae Patton/©2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc.)
By Drew Glitch and Samantha Illenz
Special to Niagara Frontier Publications
Recently, television has widened its range of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning and/or queer representation for the better. The more representation of diversity there is in media, the more acceptance of diversity is likely to come out of it. Shows like "RuPaul's Drag Race" have played a pivotal role in the increased spread of representation in media.
"RuPaul's Drag Race" is a competition-based reality television show created and hosted by RuPaul himself. The show includes a number of drag queens who compete for the title of "America's Next Drag Superstar." The show's cast consists of mainly members of the LGBTQ+ community. Because of the cast and the goals of the show, "RuPaul's Drag Race" has become extremely important to the widespread exhibition of the community.
"I was already pro-LGBTQ, but it really opened up the idea of drag," Niagara University student Shelby McNulty said. "As a kid, I thought men dressing up as women was a joke, like a womanizer contest or something. It didn't help me accept the community any more, because I already did, but it did help me to understand the facet community that is drag, because it's almost a community of its own."
For many years, television and the LGBTQ+ community have had a strenuous relationship. Looking back, there are many negative representations of the community - like Klinger in "M*A*S*H." Though Klinger is a heterosexual, he uses effeminate and stereotypically gay traits to try and get a psychiatric discharge.
These days, however, television has helped many people to become more accepting of the community as a whole.
"The media used to villainize LGBTQ+ people, and now it isn't doing that anymore," said Anne Judd, an NU freshman. "It's popularizing the community and making it easier for people to understand it."
It's true that, in the '60s, television programs started including queer people in episodes of their show, but rarely as recurring characters. They were usually people with some sort of mental disorder or people who wanted to "cure" themselves of their sexuality. Now, however, the weaponizing of disease has stopped and LGBTQ+ people are now more widely accepted (at least in America).
"The values of many people have become less conservative in general," Judd said.
Although, as a society, there has been a dramatic increase in the acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community among young people, what does the rate of acceptance look like for the older generation?
Lisa Illenz, 49, said, "Before watching the show, I have always respected and been accepting of the LGBTQ+ community. But since watching the show, I have gained more respect and have learned more about the struggles and issues that the members of the community have come across."
She added, "I feel as if the show had brought more attention to the LGBTQ+ community and has brought a more positive light to it. I believe that, because of the show, more people part or not a part of the community, have become more interested in the LGBTQ+ community, and with that can sometimes come more acceptance and growth in allies."
It seems as though not only the younger generation has had growing interest and acceptance, but so can anyone - no matter the age.
Illenz said, "Media has absolutely been a major factor into the growth of acceptance throughout the community. Everyone has access to media and, because of it, more ideas can be shared, more stories can be told, and more discussions can be made, which really help in opening the eyes of people. (This) can lead into becoming more accepting of people that are not always like them."
Through the discussions with people ranging in age, it appears there is an underlying and shared belief and idea throughout many. Media has had a massive impact on the growth of acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community and, without it, the pace of widespread acceptance would be drastically slower.
"As a whole, acceptance of the community is getting better, but it still isn't great," McNulty said. "But the newest generation is much more accepting than previous ones and, as they communicate with people of older generations, they really open up conversation. There are just more people in this generation that are involved in the community. I think that's in large part because of the expansion of the LGBTQ+ community. It's been more active in the media and less obscure. The media has been expanding on showing gay people as people rather than the gay one."
McNulty said that, as times move on, television has become more and more open to LGBTQ+ characters. While in the past they were portrayed as villains, now they are people.
"It's made me realize that people are people," said student Beau Stager on the topic of media representation.
Stager, who has a Catholic perspective, added, "It doesn't affect me in any way what or who someone else likes. It doesn't hurt me in any way, so I don't care what people do. People are people no matter who they like."
Positive representation of the LGBTQ+ community in media is not only affecting the way other people see the community, but it also helps people within it to accept themselves.
"People have become more accepting of people's differences, which makes people with differences special, which is good," Stager added. "As things become more accepting, people start coming out more, which makes it easier for people to be accepting - which in turn makes more people come out and it's a chain reaction."
"In the media, in some ways it's glorified, and people can think they may get some positive attention for it, and they can be more comfortable being themselves knowing the whole world will back them up," student Ejuah Adam said.
Due to the popularity of shows like "RuPaul's Drag Race," people are not only growing to accept others, but it's making it easier for people to accept themselves. The media's role in all this is undeniable. And it is seemingly clear that the positivity that is displayed in it today is emulated by popular culture as a whole.
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Niagara Frontier Publications works with the Niagara University Communication Studies Department to publish the capstone work of students in CMS 120A-B.
These articles do not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of NFP, NU or the communication studies department.
Comments can be sent to the NFP editorial department, care of the managing editor.

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